Microsoft’s Friedman On ‘Rebooting Windows’

Microsoft’s Friedman On ‘Rebooting Windows’

Chuck Friedman_middleSESP Dean David Figlio (left) with alumni Chuck Friedman and Ray Loeschner

Curiosity, empathy, and diversity were key elements in the successful redesign of Windows 8, Microsoft’s Chuck Friedman (BS88) said during the Ray and Nancy Loeschner Leadership series lecture at Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy. 

Friedman, a corporate vice president at Microsoft, led the Windows 10 team as it worked to transform a product that had alienated its base into one with “soul, purpose, and intention.”

Using a multi-disciplinary approach and the mantra “Windows is for doing” Friedman redefined the product while also embracing the company’s changing culture. “We moved from being knowers to living in a culture of curiosity,” he said.

In 2013, senior leaders at Microsoft asked Friedman to head the team that would revamp the Windows “shell,” or the part of the software that consumers actively use. Friedman, a self-described “start-uppy kind of guy,” called the opportunity a "fascinating entrepreneurial moment.” 

Rather than working within the existing framework, Friedman started over by researching what consumers actually wanted from the operating system. He assembled a racially, culturally, and organizationally diverse team to speak with users in the field about how they used their computers. Their boots-on-the-ground conversations yielded valuable insights, including the fact that people turn to Windows when they want to get something done.

“His story illustrates how learning and understanding people is integral to creating impact as a leader,” said Jeff Merrell, associate director of SESP’s Master's in Learning and Organizational Change Program.

Friedman also encouraged transparency – previously Microsoft had developed Windows in secret. He stressed humility and the importance of listening to the user. And he encouraged his team to help people feel smart as Microsoft pursued its bold new mission of “500 million happy and engaged Windows users.”

The idea that a product has a “soul” resonated with graduate student Shoshi Shapiro (BS17), one of the first to major in learning sciences. 

“Design students often hear about making technology act more human, but we rarely hear of the transformation of a business into the tech,” Shapiro said. “I left the talk really interested in analyzing my own use of Windows and how the way I see it today is because of someone changing a technology culture.”

During the question and answer session, Friedman offered the audience the same advice he gives to potential recruits: Figure out what you’re doing that makes you stand out.

“Ask yourself, what will it take for you to be world class and can you be rigorous about what it will take to get there?” he said.  

Friedman was the fourth speaker in the Loeschner Leadership series, which presents visionary leaders in education and other fields. Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America, helped launch the series in 2013. Eva Moskowitz, CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools, spoke in 2015. Mischa Fisher, chief economic advisor to Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, spoke in February of this year.

The lecture was established with a gift from SESP alumnus Ray Loeschner (MA57) of Grand Rapids, Michigan, the former president of Olivet University and a trailblazer in higher education. Loeschner also received his PhD from Northwestern in 1962 and served as an assistant football and track coach.

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 5/10/18